There are two ways to get a flat stomach: You can put the hard work at the gym to torch belly fat, or you can focus on bloating, which can make your stomach look far from flat. True, it's not something that we'd all care to admit, but with more women suffering from bloating than men, it's an important issue to discuss.
Of course, while the bloating aspect is physically uncomfortable, it can also impact our confidence if we're feeling self-conscious of apparent weight gain when really it's just a result of how our digestive system is reacting. But there are remedies that will help you debloat and give you a flatter stomach almost immediately.
We spoke to nutritional therapist Sandra Greenbank about this problem, and she told us that bloating is quite the complicated issue. "Our lives are generally quite stressful, and there are many things that can disrupt your gut flora such as stress, diet, antibiotic use, the pill and some other medications," she says.
Greenbank also talked about how our bodies tend to go into a fight or flight mode when under stress, which can also lead to bloating, as "your body thinks you're being attacked, so all the energy goes away from the digestive system."
As well as some expert advice, we also consulted some scientific studies on how to beat the bloat and end up with a flatter stomach.
Keep scrolling to read about the hacks you need to know to get a flatter stomach, plus what you should and shouldn't be eating.
Eat More Slowly
Sounds simple but eating slower has been known to stop bloating. How? Well, for starters, you're not taking in so much air, filling your stomach up with gas and meaning you can feel a little more bloated. Greenbank recommends trying mindful eating and generally chewing food for longer to stop your stomach from getting full so quickly.
"Your stomach doesn't have teeth, so you need to chew your food properly before you swallow it," Greenbank says. "You should chew it so you can't tell the difference between the stem and the rest of it." This is important because if you don't, your stomach will struggle to digest the bigger particles and bacteria can start fermenting on the food and can cause digestive problems, thus preventing a flat stomach.
Jo Travers, RD, author of The Low-Fad Diet, also reiterated this point, saying that we can often get bloated when we're not thinking about what we're eating, such as when we're watching TV. We can tend to not chew our food properly, which can lead to bloating.
Check your portion sizes
It might seem obvious, but you should be checking how much food you're actually consuming. While many people often say they can't eat gluten because it bloats them, according to Travers, usually it's not the actual pasta and bread that can cause the bloating but rather "the quantity being eaten." She recommends that you stick to a fist-size portion to ensure that you're eating the right amount.
However, Travers did also point out that one of the main reasons we get excess bloating is that "the bacteria in the colon is eating the food you eat and then that produces gas." If your diet is high in fermentable carbohydrates (think breads, pastas—the gluten-rich foods), then you might find that you're experiencing excess gas. To ensure you're eating more fermentable carbs, the ideal diet to follow for this is the FODMAP diet, which can help you work out which foods will bloat you and which ones won't.
One of our favourite ways to get a flat stomach when feeling the bloat is drinking peppermint tea. There are many studies that have proven the efficacy of peppermint and its effect on better digestion. With bloating, it eases the muscles "that allow painful digestive gas to pass." But it's not only useful for temporary digestive problems, it's also been proven to help those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. In a study published in British Medical Journal, peppermint oil was recommended as one treatment for IBS sufferers.
Get into yoghurt
Fermented foods are a big deal right now, as they can help with your digestion. Although everyone is going mad for Kombucha tea there is one product probably lurking in your fridge already that has incredible digestive benefits: yoghurt. Not only can it help to digest your food and help with getting a flat stomach, but it's also thought to help with your immune system.
As Greenbank already stated, when you feel stressed, your body isn't able to digest food properly. If your body goes into fight or flight, then all the blood intended to help your body break down food can't do its job as your body is redirecting it elsewhere in your system. To help you de-stress (at least in the short term) try listening to calming music, sipping on peppermint or chamomile tea or try some mindfulness. The Harvard Medical School also recommends some other longer-term remedies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnosis.
Next up! How to lose belly fat in nine simple steps.